This was the fastest minor league first half I can remember. It just flew by. For Cubs prospects, there were a lot of great performances in that time span. Many players were able to sustain a level of excellence, while others ebbed and flowed.
If you’ve been following this website, I don’t think there any surprises on the list. However I think there are some names who you would not have foreseen at the beginning of the year. Names like Duncan Robinson, Andrew Ely, Michael Rucker, Jason Vosler, and Dillon Maples, to name a few.
Here is this year’s Cubs first half minor league all-star team in video form.
Here are some names for you to ponder when it comes to the second half All-Star team:
Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, Thomas Hatch, Gustavo Polanco, Jose Albertos, and many more. It would not surprise me to see half the names change in this list.
I will be back tomorrow with a post about some possible breakout players to watch for in the second half. They are mostly players from Mesa and Eugene with a few draft picks thrown in for good measure.
By Todd Johnson
April was a pretty rough month as temperatures kept some players down. Now that it has warmed up, so have the performances. In fact, they were many more players competing for a spot this month, whereas in April, each position was pretty clear-cut.
Starting pitchers and outfielders made the most improvement over the last five weeks. In fact, the starting pitching was so impressive I went with eight starters rather than the normal six. They all posted ERAs under 3, which made the decision pretty easy.
I did not put Eloy on the team as he only played in 13 games, but what a 13 game stat line. He hit .324 with 3 HRs, 10 RBI, and a .468 OBP. I cannot wait to see how he does in June.
Let’s get right to this month’s list…
Iowa – 4 (all hitters)
Tennessee – 11 (4 position/7 pitchers)
Myrtle Beach – 4 (all pitchers)
South Bend – 4 (1 hitter/3 pitchers)
For next month…
Several players will be returning very soon from the DL. They include Trey Martin, Erling Moreno, Jordan Minch, Bailey Clark, and Dylan Cease. As well, some players are starting to put it together who could make a run for next month’s squad. They include Wladimir Galindo, Luis Ayala, Robert Garcia, Dave Berg, and pitcher Thomas Hatch.
Mesa, Eugene, and two DLS squads fire up their seasons this month. Most of them will be in contention for the honorable mention sections as Eugene and Mesa will only get about 12 games in, not enough to qualify.
The two DSL teams start Saturday, June 3rd, and could have some names on the list. Most position players signed in the draft begin play right away. Pitchers selected take some time to get back into shape.
By Todd Johnson
The trade talk for the Cubs right now surrounds the acquisition of a starting pitcher, preferably one who is signed beyond this year. Jon Heyman wrote an interesting article yesterday that listed some possible candidates who might be available this summer. Names included Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Jose Quintana, Chris Archer and every Tampa Ray known to man. The price will be steep if the Cubs decide to go that route.
On the other hand, I was watching/listening to the Myrtle Beach game last night and I started to work on a post for next week. My monthly minor league All-Star team for May has some intriguing options. Usually, for a starting pitcher to be considered to make the team, the ERA is most often near or below three. This month four players who met that standard would not make the team. Zach Hedges is at 3.23, Adbert Alzolay, 2.91, Seth Frankoff, 2.76, and Jen-Ho Tsen, 2.70.
Granted, the month is not over. With six days to go, all of the pitchers listed in this post have one start left. So, it is technically still in a state of flux. That being said, today’s six pack shows just how deep and rich the Cubs starting pitching has been this month at AA Tennessee and high A Myrtle Beach.
Here are the six leading candidates to make Cubs Central’s May All-Star Team. They also could be considered to move up a level here in the next month around the draft. None of them should come as a surprise if you have been reading as I have written about all of them but one this month.
Oscar de la Cruz 2.63 ERA
What impresses me most is that he works fast. He gets in a rhythm and just throws. He doesn’t necessarily rely on the strikeout, but he can if needed. Last night he struck out ten.
Preston Morrison 2.50 ERA
As usual, he had a crappy April and has had three quality starts in May. I wrote about him earlier this week. He gets great movement on all his pitches and he combines that with great strategy to baffle hitters.
Trevor Clifton 1.85 ERA
He might be my favorite pitcher to watch. When he is on, it looks like his arm is made of rubber as to how effortless he throws. He also has the best pickoff move in the organization. It’s a bit of an under reported weapon for him. He is off to his best start as a Cubs prospect.
Bryan Hudson 1.23 ERA
He stayed in EXST to begin the year. He made 2 starts in April and his ERA was 10.13. In May, he’s been a ground ball machine averaging over 10 a game. In four starts, his 1.23 ERA is more indicative of the type of pitcher he’s becoming. The 6’8” lefty is moving up lists this summer. He just keeps gaining more and more confidence.
Justin Steele 1.19 ERA
Good for him! He is the kind of kid you can root for. He is still working on some things, but his stuff this year has been compared to Lester’s. However, he still needs to get his command down. Even though opponents are hitting .250 against him, he’s stranding them on base this year.
Duncan Robinson 0.90 ERA
At the beginning of the month, he was one of the best relievers in the system. Now, the 6’6” righty from Dartmouth has been one of the best starters. He’s gone 13 innings in his two starts and only allowed one run. For the month, he pitched 20 innings combined.I don’t think he is going back to being a reliever. He is the biggest surprise/breakout of the 2017 season.
The next week should be fun to see who makes the All-Star team.
By Todd Johnson
You can thank the rain storms that covered much of the Midwest for me being able to finish this month’s all-star team on schedule. There were no yards to mow, no weeds to pull, and no dogs to walk in the rain. In addition, there were no minor league games except for Myrtle Beach and South Bend on Sunday.
It was a strange month for trying to pick a few spots on the All-Star team. First base was a difficult choice as most of the organization struggled at that position. I wound up going with a player who only played a few games there. When it came to starting pitching, I had a couple players drop off after poor starts in the last week. When it came time to select the hitter of the month, all I had to do was look at only one team who was rained out for the weekend.
I think the May All-Star team will be much different. For one, I think Yasiel Balaguert has started to find his stroke at first base. In the outfield, there will be much more competition as Jake Hannemann, Kevonte Mitchell, and Mark Zagunis all had strong final weeks in April. Trey Martin could return as well. I also think that some of the starting pitching will start to stabilize in Myrtle Beach and South Bend. Duncan Robinson will be one pitcher to watch in May as to whether he starts or relieves in South Bend.
So, without further adieu, here is the April All-Star team.
Iowa Cubs – 4
Tennessee Smokies – 7
Myrtle Beach Pelicans – 6
South Bend Cubs – 4
By Todd Johnson
On Monday, Cubs Central’s first monthly all-star team of the season will be published. So far, it’s been 3 and 1/2 weeks of interesting performances by some of the Cubs’ best prospects. Time is also growing near as the Cubs seem to be struggling with two starters in the rotation. On the horizon, two starting pitchers will most likely leave at the end of the season as free agents. So, the performances by several of the Cubs are an insight into who could be, and who could not be, possible starting pitchers in 2018.
My initial theory was that the Cubs would get one possible starter either this summer or at the trade deadline this summer or they could acquire one next winter. Then, the other pitcher could be one of their own prospects. Right now, the accruement of another pitcher is extremely likely. In addition, the Cubs could produce more than one pitcher on their own. The problem, though, is that there is no number one or two type starter among them. Still, the pitching prospects could all be functional on many levels.
- Eddie Butler – Right now, he’s looking good. He is pitching well in a predominant hitting league. He is not striking out as many hitters as I thought he would/could, but he is getting them out in a timely manner with as few pitches as possible. He’s not throwing straight gas, but is using all his pitches. His current ERA of 1.49 is the lowest in the Cubs system for starters with 4 starts.
- Duane Underwood – He’s having a bit of a renaissance season. He has a 3.00 ERA in 3 starts, one in which he struck out 8. I would like to see him go a bit deeper in each start. Currently, he’s gone 5 innings in each one.
- Alec Mills – He made two starts and then went on the DL. His second start was a bit of a gem. He went 6 IP with 3 hits and no runs allowed. It should be interesting to see how he does when he returns.
Three who could get a shot next next spring
- Trevor Clifton – I really like Trevor. He has two plus pitches and an improving changeup. Some call him workmanlike, but I don’t see that. He has a lot of talent. He can throw hard. Once he gets in a groove, he is almost unhittable. Even though his fastball comes in between 92-95, it has late action that occurs ten feet from the plate. His curve can be knee buckling while his change has some arm side run at times. He currently has a 2.66 ERA and all of the earned runs he’s allowed this year came on just two pitches until last night. He has improved on the little things a lot since South Bend and now has one of the best pick off moves in the system. I think he gets a shot in spring training and is likely added to the 40 man this fall.
- Jen-Ho Tseng – He’s a bit of an enigma. LIke Underwood, he’s having a bit of a resurgent year. So far, he’s had 4 starts with a 2.45 ERA. He’s struck out 14 in 22 IP. Yet, there are still the questions of dependability and consistency. In 2014, he was the Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the Year. Since then, he’s struggled to figure out what kind of pitcher he can be. It looks like he’s reverted to 2014 and it looks like it is working.
- Zach Hedges – I love watching this young man pitch. He’s a ground ball machine. His start on Tuesday saw him go 7 IP with only 1 hit. His current ERA is 2.38 and is likely headed down. He should be the first pitcher at AA Tennessee to get the call to AAA Iowa, whose staff is a bit distressed. Whether or not he can make it to Chicago really depends on his ability to keep the ball down in AAA Iowa when he gets there. He has a plus slider and throws mostly between 90-94 with his sinking fastball.
You are probably wondering why Dylan Cease is not on this list. Currently he is at low A South Bend. He will not be ready come next spring to attempt to compete for a spot in Chicago. He’s likely to be ready in 2019. Even if he makes it to AA Tennessee in August this year, he needs a lot of work on a changeup or a third pitch. If he’s going to be just a two pitch pitcher, then Cease will just be a reliever very, very quickly.
Let the Games Begin!
It is going be 70 degrees today in northern Illinois! So, with five games happening this afternoon, it will be great to feel the breeze come in my office as I watch one game on the TV and four on MiLB.TV.
Last night was a good night to watch three games the same time. I had the Cubs and Milwaukee on the TV, South Bend on the computer, and Tennessee on my phone. I got to see great pitching performances by Dylan Cease and Trevor Clifton, a resurgent offense as Kris Bryant got his first hits of the year, and later, Jeimer Candelario and Ian Happ both hit home runs for the second night in a row.
Here are a few things I have liked just after three games:
1. Iowa is going to win a lot of games. They have a potent offense from 1 to 9 and a talented bullpen.
2. Tennessee has a mixture of excellent defense, starting pitching, and a couple of guys who I think can really play and David Bote and Trey Martin.
3. Jen-Ho Tseng was fairly decent in his debut on Friday night. He looked more like The pitcher at Kane County than he did like the pitcher of the last two years.
3. South Bend is an extremely young team. They only have a couple of position players with college experience. Their bats could take a while to warm up.
4. Oscar de la Cruz will be the pitcher I look forward to seeing most today. In fact, just the first three days showed how good pitching now is in the Cubs’ system.
5. Pitchers Tyson Miller and Duncan Robinson both looked very good for South Bend as they only gave up one earned run between them.
Around the System
Iowa: 3-0; This team is going to win a lot of games. They did well this week by taking down some of the Dodgers’ top prospects
Tennessee: 2-1; They are sneaky good!
Myrtle Beach: 2-1; The starting pitching and bullpen look very good!
South Bend: 0-3; It takes a while for the young bats to warm up in the chilly air of a Midwestern spring.
New Features for Cubs Central on the Facebook page
There are three new daily features that will be posted there. They are – Hitter of the Day, Pitcher of the Day, and Reliever of the Day. For the past couple of years, we have done “The Weekly” awards every Sunday. I wanted to reward the daily efforts as well this year. Here are the winners from this week.
Thursday – Eddy Martinez, Eddie Butler, Scott Effross
Friday – Jeimer Candelario, Thomas Hatch, Rob Zastryzny
Saturday – Jeimer Candelario, Dylan Cease, and David Rollins
Draft Update News
Oregon’s David Peterson (77 Ks in 52.1 IP) continues to roll as does Brendon Little (86 Ks in 55 IP) The two lefty starters have to be on the Cubs radar for the
The Cubs signed shortstop Vincente King last summer as an international free agent. The 16-year-old was killed in a motorcycle accident in the Dominican Republic. He was set to begin to play in the Dominican Summer League later this year. Our prayers go out to his family and friends.
Opening day in Chicago – Rain needs to stay away
From Small Things, Big Things One Day Come
10 Things I Think
By Todd Johnson
The tide is turning. By the end of the 2018 season, there will be a wave of starting pitchers hitting the shores of Chicago. It’s going to be unlike anything Cubs fans have seen. To date, only one drafted player, Rob Zastryzny, made it to Chicago and made one start. By the end of next year, as many as six starting right-handed starting pitchers could easily be ready.
When I look at the Cubs’ right-handed starting pitching prospects, they seem to be in tiers. The first tier contains players who are at AA and AAA. The second tier is at low and high A ball, and the third wave is at Eugene, the rookie level in Mesa, and in the Dominican. Some are more ready than others. The others, however, could be ready and just as equal in performance.
Initially, I just wanted to do one post. Once I completed that post, I decided to split into two parts. Today, I will look at five pitchers on the fringe who could make it to Chicago by the end of 2018 but are not considered to be in the top 5 of RHSP prospects in the system.
11. The first pitcher profiled today is Jake Stinnett. If you ever watch Jake pitch, you know that he gets massive movement on all his pitches. He just has not been able to control the quality stuff that he has. Last year at Myrtle Beach, he got off to a great start and then began to fizzle in July before recovering in August. I am beginning to wonder if the pen is for him. 2017 will tell.
10. Preston Morrison is another pitcher who is blessed with immaculate control but not overpowering pitches. He gets a lot of movement and is able to command his pitches to do what he wants. The question is whether those pitches have enough giddy up on them to succeed at the major-league level. Last year he moved to the third-base side of the rubber and his career really took off at South Bend and again at Myrtle Beach.
9. Erling Moreno pitched his first full season of A ball after 2 injury plagued seasons. The young 19-year-old was dominant at short-season Eugene as he flashed a plus curveball to go with his low 90s fastball. He was pretty much devastating all year long and is one of my favorite pitchers in the system. Still, I’d like to see what he can do in South Bend in 2017. He will still only be 19 and I think that his arm strength will return more and we might see more on his fastball than what we saw in 2016.
8. Out of all the arms the Cubs drafted in the 2016 draft, Bailey Clark might have the most special arm. In terms of talent, he can throw in the upper 90s and he was excellent in five starts for Eugene after completing a full college season. Even though his college season at Duke was not what one would have hoped for, Clark came in, took some direction, and took off as a member of the Emeralds. I think after a full spring training, he is going to be ready to shine in South Bend.
7. Ryan Williams – What I love most about Williams is that he attacks the bottom part of the zone relentlessly. He has a closer’s mentality in a starter’s body. Although he missed most of the last year, I am still very high on him even if he only has one full year in the system. I think he could have made it to Chicago last year. Although he starts, he does have the experience in the bullpen from college when he was a closer. He’s not overpowering, but he has great command and control of his pitches.
6. Zach Hedges – Hedges, in my opinion, could make it to Chicago, if needed, in 2017. Wow! That was totally strange typing that. After an impressive offseason of conditioning before the 2016 season, Hedges gained 3-4 mph on his fastball. This put him consistently in the 92-95 mph range to go along with a plus slider and what hopes to be a developing change. He works deep into games, he works off contact, and he works quickly to keeps hitters off balance. He is a groundball machine. And he’s close. He should be at AAA to start the year. Working in the Pacific Coast League this summer will present Zach with challenges not seen as the league is predominantly a hitter’s league, especially the mountain range teams in the west.
Don’t sleep yet on Jen-Ho Tseng, Jake Buchanan, Erick Leal, or Brad Markey. All have had their moments. To me, Leal and Markey could surprise the most. Leal is a tall, lanky pitcher who seems to improve slightly every year. Markey is a command specialist. Last year was a good year in terms of stats, except he gave up a lot of solo home runs. I am sure correcting that is at the top of his to-do list for 2017.
Buchanan is actually, believe it or not, someone who could spot start in Chicago before any other starter currently in the minors. As for Jen-Ho, he’s the only starting pitcher left from the vaunted Kane County team who has a viable shot of making it as a starter. The problem for him is that they have made so many changes to him, I don’t even know if he knows who he is as a pitcher anymore. We shall find out once more in 2017.
I will be back next week with part two as I examine the top 5 RHSP in the Cubs’ system and some dark horses in the lower parts of the system for 2017.